Wednesday, September 6, 2023

What is ‘Combat Effective’?

We fixate on the pursuit of bleeding edge technology because we think that will make us more combat effective but is bleeding edge technology really combat effective, even if it works perfectly?
Let’s make sure we understand what ‘combat effective’ means.  It means that a system is: 
  • lethal (or contributes to lethality) – if something doesn’t kill/destroy, it’s useless
  • affordable – the greatest system in world is useless if you can’t afford to procure it in sufficient quantities
  • reliable – the greatest system in the world (I’m looking at you, Aegis, M16 rifle, and F-35) is useless if it can’t stay operational
  • repairable – things get broken in combat and if you can’t repair it on-site, it’s useless
Consider some examples of items/systems that were/are cutting edge technology but not combat effective: 
  • M16 – The M16 rifle, when introduced, was unreliable, prone to jamming, and inaccurate and uncontrollable in full auto.
  • LCS – The LCS was state of the art in automation, predictive maintenance, remote mechanical monitoring, modularity, advanced unmanned systems, and networked loitering munitions and yet was totally combat ineffective due to unreliability, unrepairability, and non-lethality.
  • Aegis – Bleeding edge technology that was so complex it could not be maintained and was found to be degraded fleet-wide without anyone even recognizing it.  It is so delicate that a gentle grounding (Port Royal incident) was enough to render it inoperable.  It failed in the few combat situations it’s been in.
  • KC-46 Tanker – A simple tanker requirement became too complex, unreliable, unaffordable, and unfixable.
  • Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) – This AAV replacement was unaffordable.
  • Ford – Poster child for the stupidity of bleeding edge technology.  Everything about it is wrong.  Unaffordable, unreliable, unrepairable. 
Not only does cutting/bleeding edge technology not guarantee combat effectiveness, it almost guarantees the opposite – that the item will be combat ineffective.
Now consider a few systems currently being developed that are likely to be combat ineffective:
  • Adaptive engine – too complex, unreliable, unrepairable, unaffordable
  • Hypersonics – unaffordable
  • Unmanned – non-lethal
  • Artificial Intelligence – unreliable, too complex, unrepairable
We’re pouring money into these technological black holes despite them having all the characteristics of ineffective combat systems.
In contrast, consider some of the historical weapon systems that were, possibly, state of the art but not cutting/bleeding edge technology:  Fletcher class destroyer, Essex class carrier, Iowa class battleship, F6F Hellcat, etc.  They were state of the art but not beyond.
Having considered all this, let’s now ask ourselves a hypothetical question.  Which is the more combat effective system:  a mechanical, rotating radar that routinely works at 100% of its design capability and is affordable, easily maintained, and easily repaired or a flat panel, cutting edge radar that combines multiple radar bands and functions into one but is hideously expensive, difficult to produce, impossible to maintain, cannot be repaired in the field, is unbelievably sensitive to misalignment, and requires Ph.D scientists to operate, program, and analyze but when it is working perfectly provides unparalleled results?  I know which one I’d want to take into combat – what about you? 
Put it another way, would you rather have Tiger tanks or Shermans?  Which one was actually more combat effective?
Sherman and Tiger - which was more combat effective?

A system that’s combat effective only when conditions are perfect is not combat effective.
A system that’s combat effective when everything goes wrong is truly combat effective.
Cutting edge technology belongs in the lab until it becomes combat effective.
We need to stop our pursuit of cutting/bleeding edge technology and begin pursuing combat effectiveness.


  1. While I agree with your thesis, I'll disagree with one mis-characterization of the M16 rifle.

    The M16 was never "inaccurate and uncontrollable in full auto". Quite the opposite actually. Noticeably more accurate and controllable (in both semi-automatic & full automatic modes) than any of its 1950s/1960s peer competitors (AK-47, M14, FAL, G3, M2 Carbine, etc.). Or most anything else available today.

    The adoption of that weapon's lightly recoiling and logistically easy to carry caliber (5.56), its use of (then) revolutionary "space age" lightweight construction materials (aluminum alloy & plastics), and its superb in-line recoil managing ergonomics... placed it decisively ahead of the pack in that regard.

    Which is why the product improved design is still in massive service still reigns supreme today. Especially so among global SOF forces (where M4 design variants are the gold standard).

    The 1957 designed M16 suffered from a disastrous semi-initial (1965) mass combat fielding due to the US Army (Army Material Command & its moribund Arsenal system) trying to fix a wheel that wasn't broke. Not invented here syndrome hard at work. So the gun (and more importantly its ammo) were unwisely modified from original design specifications. Which cost lives in some units.

    The M16 rushed to war with service inflicted USS Ford type issues, but eventually became the infantry rifle equivalent of the Fletcher class. Or the F6F Hellcat if you will.

    I carried, instructed, & employed most M16 variants (and the competitor platforms I mentioned). 35 years US Army SOF (75th Rangers & 1st Special Forces Regiment).

    Admittedly a minor point, but one that deserves honest correction.

    1. Sorry for a few typos in the above post. For some reason, my draft kinda "auto-posted" while I was still cleaning it up.

      I do agree with the thrust of ComNavOps original post.

    2. "The M16 was never "inaccurate and uncontrollable in full auto". Quite the opposite actually."

      Here's the quote from the Wiki article on the subject:

      "Battlefield reports indicated that the M14 was uncontrollable in full-auto"

      I was old enough during that period to remember the flood of reports detailing the problems with the rifle. That it eventually became serviceable does not change the initial, prolonged failures.

      One of the post conclusions was that cutting edge technology should stay in the lab until it becomes combat effective. The M16 was NOT combat effective in its early years. Men died because of that. Realistic testing should have found all the problems prior to introduction in the field.

    3. Here's another quote from a rifle website. Similar quotes are all over the Internet:

      "The M16 rifle, the standard issue firearm for American troops during the Vietnam War, was notoriously prone to jamming and other mechanical issues. According to veterans of the conflict, the M16 had a tendency to jam as often as once every two magazines, or as much as twice per minute during intense firefights. Issues with the reliability of the M16 were mainly attributed to poor manufacturing, lack of proper maintenance, and the use of the wrong kind of ammunition. The jamming issues of the M16 were so severe that in 1968, the U.S. Army issued an order to all troops to clean and lubricate their rifles at least once a day. Despite these measures, jamming remained an issue that U.S. soldiers had to deal with throughout the war."

    4. A large part of the reliability problem was due to the Army not shipping enough cleaning kits. That made a temperamental weapon even more prone to failure. If you want to see glitchy take a modern AR and don't clean it.

      Even if you have a good system you can severly degrade it with improper fielding.

    5. In contrast, an AK should be cleaned once every ten years whether it needs it or not. THAT’S combat effective!

    6. The M14 was uncontrollable in full auto, the M16 wasn't.

    7. The M16 was developed using IMR extruded propellants for its 5.56 cartridges, to reduce costs Robert McNarma changed the powder to Olin ball propellant as it was cheaper, but ball powder has drawbacks, it had different burning characteristics and caused timing problems with the M16 auto system and ball propellant is generally dirtier and more effected by temperature, that lead to the majority of M16 operational problems.

      The Army M14 was initially issued to the troops in Vietnam was semi-auto only as it was too powerful to control on full auto with its full powered 7.62 round and was found to be totally inadequate as it was outgunned by the firepower of the fully auto Kalashnikov AK-47s with its intermediate round used by the Vietcong.

      The limited M16 combat effectivness was self inflicted.

  2. "The M16 was NOT combat effective in its early years."

    It was very effective in its early years. Those years when it saw use in combat with our Special Forces and their indigenous troop formations in S. Vietnam. Years before the Gulf of Tonkin & LBJ's big conventional invasion/buildup. The gun was considered the Bees Knees by most who used them at that earlier time. They were quite happy with the design and killed a lot of folks with it. Those very same guys taught me my trade.

    Big Army Buraucracy took a proven design (that already reliably worked in combat) and turned it into something unreliable. By arbitrarily making a change to the ammunition propellent, employing existing massive stocks of sunk cost small arms gun powder that the gun was never designed to use. Which led to brand and sequel issues. They then had to fix the very problems they created (only done after an irate Congress lit a fire under them).

    As if someone had designed a vehicle to run on unleaded high octane gasoline... then issued and fueled everyone up with leaded low-octane fuel. Or designed a large Navy cruiser with magic guns... and then cancelled the ammo for them.

    The M16's design wasn't the problem. Procurement idiots were the problem. The gun's mid-stream teething issues were completely avoidable.

    "Battlefield reports indicated that the M14 was uncontrollable in full-auto"

    Well, yes. The M14 (a completely different gun) was definitely an inaccurate and uncontrollable weapon on full auto. At 2/75 Rangers, I was issued the version with the selector switch and the pistol gripped and bipod equipped stock. As well as stock M14s and (for a lot longer period of years) the sniper M21/M25 variants. That 7.62 NATO gun was a handful to make hits with when fired on full-automatic. Pretty worthless for most situations. M16s, XM-177s, M4A1s on the other hand... very controllable and accurate on full-auto.

    Of note: problems with M16s during the mid to late 60s were not universal among all troops and all units. Most Army Infantry/USMC units DIDN'T experience those problems in combat. But a few did. Several lengthy books have been written about why that was.

    I just thought your choosing the M16 as an example of "not combat effective" was incorrect. 'Cause I'm just a former career dumb grunt, but one with a fair amount of SME concerning the actual history of that weapon system.

    This is your blog and it's about Naval affairs. So I'll refrain from any further commentary about the tools of my Ground Trade. It would just result in thread drift.

    I enjoy this site and have a lifetime hobbyist interest in Naval matters. This is, by far, my favorite site for scratching that itch.

    1. M16 was particularly notable that it transferred recoil straight back to the shooters shoulder. Nothing prior to that rifle achieved that goal. No up or down effect on full auto.

      As a result, it was way more accurate at the effective range of the 5.56 cartridge than anything that had a low point of recoil absorption. That includes both military and hunting rifles.

    2. Thanks for posting. I’ll take your word on this over Wikipedia, or some anonymous ‘expert’ any day.

  3. Several years ago I recall reading that the EW platform SEWIP Block 2 had deficiencies (according to a DOT&E report ). The Navy should have fixed the issues by now . Block 3 is in operational test mode.. I see where the block 3 had a land based test site. Our navy has a self inflicted problem of rushing tecnologies foward that are not mature. It would be interesting to see DOT&E reports from other systems. Weapon or platform viability cannot be confirmed without testing ! ( I agree that setting up a CONOPS for these ships & systems is neccessary.)

  4. The perfect is the enemy of good enough. A weapon (or weapons system) should have one major job, be effective at it, and be simple to use. (Somewhere, I have a cartoon of a "Swiss Army Rifle" sporting every sighting gadget one could hang on it, along with a set of jackknife blades, corkscrews, and a Coocoo clock.

  5. Sherman or Tiger tank? I would pick the T34. I despise communism and Soviet ideals, but they sure could build a good tank. Someone else already mentioned the AK series rifles; another weapon designed with realistic conditions in mind.


    1. Once the Brits shoehorned their 17 pdr into the Sherman they had a tank that could kill a Tiger with a single round - even straight through the hull.
      Serious mistake for the US Army not to have said ‘thanks very much, we’ll take as many as you can supply’. Instead we developed our own equivalent, which took time, and cost the lives of a lot of our tankers.

    2. The T34 was good tank, but I don't think the reality of it matches the legend.

      To go along with the sloped armor and excellent gun were bad engines, poor quality materials, inexpertly treated armor plates, poor visibility, cramped interior that made combat functions difficult, poor crew survivability.

      The Sherman was flawed, but it was mechanically sound, easy to maintain, and functionally designed. With a good gun it was a solid choice.


  6. Recent US weapon systems aren't designed to be combat-effective. The highest priority for their designers is for them to be sales-effective. They're sold to a combination of politicians with no practical experience and naval officers with misleading experience from the GWoT.

    The navy has shut down its in-house design departments, and is just a user of weapons systems. The enlisted maintainers have some idea of how practical the current systems are, but upwards communication is slow and filtered for acceptability.

    And the acceptable answers are constrained by cultural rules which dictate that American is wonderful and always wins.

    The US is in a situation similar to that of the UK in the 1890s. It has a terrifying façade, but it's a façade, and its true strength is unknown. The UK learned lessons in the Boer War, for the army, and from Jackie Fisher, for the navy, which let it survive WWI, terribly weakened. The US needs corresponding lessons, but it's not at all clear where they'll come from.

    1. Not sure if there were any lessons at all for the Royal Navy in the Boer War.
      Any lessons for the army - hard to say. Cavalry or mounted infantry units were useful in South Africa, but on the Western Front, not so much.

    2. The army's lessons from the Boer war can be summed up as "Don't wear bright uniforms and stand in the open firing volleys." They learned that when the opposition have magazine-loading rifles and good marksmanship, camouflage and skirmish tactics are absolutely necessary.

    3. To back up John Dallman: yes, at least, at the Battle of Majuba Hill in the First Boer War the British did wear bright red with white stripes and white helmets (hats) as seen in the paintings from link below:

      It looks like, at least, when the British were defeated at Majuba Hill during the Boer War they were in bright red: at least in all the painting I see.

      Now onto the matter at hand: yes I agree we need combat effective and good enough, but we also need to careful to do do like:

      " Because of the poor performance of some of the breech-loading guns during active service in desert conditions, The New Ordnance Department, which had replaced the old Board of Ordnance in 1855, in its infinite wisdom, decided to rearm the whole of the Royal Artillery with muzzle-loading cannons in 1871."

      Thus I disagree with ComNavOps'

      "a mechanical, rotating radar that routinely works at 100% of its design capability and is affordable, easily maintained, and easily repaired or a flat panel"

      As it would be like going back to muzzle loader cannons the British did at the time of the Second Boer War when breech loaders were coming in and used by the Boer against the British to deadly effect.

      Especially since China is building (or claiming to) build radars that:

      "the new-generation active phased array radar is made up of "tens of thousands" of transceivers, an order of magnitude far greater than featured in more usual devices, the researchers said.

      Each transceiving array unit can send and receive signals as an independent radar. When working together, these units can generate pulse electromagnet"

      Thus to keep up with China we should try to implement AESA radars of our own due to the speed advantage like muzzleloaders vs breechloaders artillery as the British discovered when they went back to muzzleloaders at the time of the Second Boer War, for the new radars the main bottleneck is in the software or human operator as those flat panel radars (oversimplification as they are really a lot of transceivers) can go very fast. Now I admit the implementation process, at least from my understanding, is very flawed and indeed the Aegis system itself seems unsuited for future conflicts for a variety of reasons, some of which ComNavOps already mentioned in other posts, so I will leave it at that.

  7. ‘Wearing bright uniforms and standing in the open firing volleys..’
    Perhaps you’re thinking of the Crimean War. During the Boer War the British wore khaki uniforms and used bolt action magazine rifles.
    The French army wore red tunics and blue ‘pantalons’ until about 1915 - poor choice of colors.

    1. I think it was blue tunics and red trousers, but the larger point is the same either way.


  8. Your Tiger vs Sherman comment reminded me of a couple biographies I read where German generals, while they liked the Tiger's firepower, would have have rather had 3 times the improved MK IV tanks than the few and breakage prone Tigers.

    But perhaps we should also remember the Naval equivalent of the Sherman--the Destroyer Escort. According to a Proceedings article, they were produced at half the price and in nearly half the time as a Destroyer during the war.
    But since they had a specific job--escorting merchant convoys-they didn't need high speed power plants or as much weaponry as a destroyer.
    The LCS failed because it should have been a modern DE but tried to be super high tech , with speed no on really needed.
    Sadly, we still have no actual vessels planned for convoy escort. Are we going to risk billion dollar burkes? And the half-billion dollar new Frigates are meant as fleet ASW platforms not escort ASW platforms...and as described above are overpriced. The European navies treat frigates like capital ships not low priced sub hunters.
    Had the LCS not been some Admiral's fantasy, we could have had the Freedom steel hulled LCS without the sophisticated engine configuration that always broke--just a simple diesel-electric only powerplant, a permanent sonar, torpedoes and a small 4 cell VLS with quadpacked sea Sparrows, and a few more CIWS/SeaRams and just call it a day. Although who knows how much even that simple a version would have cost with today's industrial complex.

    I wonder if we can have our new fleet built in Korea? They seem to understand the less exepensive, but good quality concept.

    1. I think the trick is traditional escorts will work for tankers and LNG but don't have speed and range to keep up with a full speed box ship. That, and even an OPC is going to cost north of 700 million now.

  9. Can you get to 'Combat Effectiveness' without taking new risks?

    The M-4 is not your grandfathers M-16; there's been a million incremental improvements over 50 years. It's always been this way for EVERY platform. I'm arguing the M-4 isn't possible without enduring the pain for the (early) M-16.

    I typed in 'p-38 development problems' in to google. Cooling systems and tail flutter popped up immediately; both eventually solved.

    Try 'liberty ship development problems'- Hull and deck cracks. 19 ships broke in half.

    Bows weren't as reliable as spears (more moving parts AND complexity) and what good was a flintlock that misfired?

    Does this excuse EMALS, AAG and newfangled weps elevators. Nope. Certainly not entirely given what I understand was the total lack of prototyping.

    But no system survives contact with real-world use and abuse.

    My son, incidentally, works for a gov't weps contractor. He says the US Gov hates his company and everybody who works in it because they rip off taxpayers. Maybe so. Maybe not. But it looks to me like an exogenous pressure that mitigates against prototyping (for example).

    Maybe we should hate the game just a bit more than we hate the player(s).

    1. "Can you get to 'Combat Effectiveness' without taking new risks?"

      Sadly, you've missed the entire point of the post. You eliminate risks in the lab, not on the battlefield. You thoroughly test a product BEFORE you release it to the battlefield. You don't commit to a production run of 55 LCS before you've even finalized the design of the first one. You don't commit to a run of four Fords before you've solved the problems of the EMALS, AAG, Dual Band Radar, weapon elevators, etc. You don't commit to a production run of 32 Zumwalts before you have a working gun for it. You don't put an F-35 into production before you've solved the myriad problems (we have hundreds of orphan F-35s that are not combat capable and never will be!). And so on.

      Subsequent improvements to a combat effective system to make it even more effective is perfectly acceptable and expected, however, that's a separate topic.


  10. "Sherman and Tiger - which was more combat effective?"

    The Sherman was a death trap and usually came out on the short end when a Tiger tank.

    It's not just simplicity, reliability, lethality, and repairability that make a weapon combat effective. It's also the environment and tactics that are used. Being a medium tank, the Sherman was never intended to fight heavy tanks. The Sherman was largely used to support advancing infantry.

    The Wildcat was a simple, reliable, and lethal fighter but outclassed by the Zero in terms of maneuverability and rate of climb. Employing the tactic of the Thatch Weave gave the Wildcat a chance against the Zero.

    1. Yeah, but what if the Sherman were unmanned?

    2. "It's not just simplicity, reliability, lethality, and repairability that make a weapon combat effective."

      You failed to grasp the premise of the post and then you failed to grasp the basis on which to judge the combat effectiveness of a system.

      You don't judge the combat-effectiveness of a system by examining a single scenario (one Tiger vs one Sherman when both are working perfectly). You judge the combat effectiveness of a system by evaluating the entire fleet/group of systems (the Sherman 'fleet' and the Tiger 'fleet') over the course of the entire war/combat for which it was made.

      You then failed to note one of the key characteristics of combat effectiveness: AFFORDABILITY! Yes, that was one of the four characteristics. The Sherman was affordable which enhanced its combat-effectiveness because it could be obtained in large quantities and losses could be readily replaced. The Tiger failed, miserably, in that regard (of course, late war raw material shortages and manufacturing challenges were also a factor).

      The Sherman 'fleet' was inherently affordable, lethal, reliable, and repairable. Thus, the Sherman was combat-effective. The Tiger 'fleet' was lethal but not affordable, reliable, or repairable and was, thus, combat-ineffective.

    3. "You judge the combat effectiveness of a system by evaluating the entire fleet/group of systems (the Sherman 'fleet' and the Tiger 'fleet') over the course of the entire war/combat for which it was made."
      In WW2, the 3rd Armored Division started off with 232 Sherman tanks. The 3rd Armored Division ended 231 days of combat with 632 Sherman's lost. That’s better than 2.5 tanks a day. That’s not combat effectiveness!
      Because every pound of supplies had to be shipped overseas, the Sherman was a compromise in terms of size and weight, which affected the size of its main weapon. The Sherman was basically a good design and well suited to our concept of operations of using tanks, which was to support infantry. Tank destroyers, tracked and towed, with more powerful guns were our primary weapons against enemy armor.
      But, many thousands of Shermans were lost in combat, mostly from enemy gunfire. A good number were taken out by mines and antitank weapons. You rant that our ships today are one-hit wonders, so we're the Shermans.
      It was our quantitative advantage, our ability to produce tens of thousands of Shermans, that overcame the qualitative advantage of the heavier German tanks. Some argue that the initial unreliability of the M-16 led to many unnecessary troop losses in Vietnam. With its thin armor and modest firepower, one can make a similar argument with the Sherman tank.
      Yes, the Sherman was affordable, but you can get a lot of people killed with an affordable weapon.

    4. " That’s not combat effectiveness!"

      Losses don't mean a system is combat ineffective. The F6F Hellcat was supremely combat effective and yet suffered losses. From the Wiki F6F article,

      "During the course of World War II, 2,462 F6F Hellcats were lost to all causes – 270 in aerial combat, 553 to antiaircraft ground and shipboard fire, and 341 due to operational causes."

      As far as the Sherman is concerned, from the Wiki Sherman article,

      "The designers stressed reliability, ease of production and maintenance, durability, standardization of parts and ammunition in a limited number of variants, and moderate size and weight (to facilitate shipping and for compatibility with existing bridging equipment size and weight limit restrictions[9]). These factors, combined with Sherman's then-superior armor and armament, outclassed German light and medium tanks fielded in 1939–42. The M4 was the most-produced tank in American history, with 49,324 produced (including variants)."

      Losing 600 Sherman tanks simply indicates that they were at the forefront of combat. Also, 600 out of 49,000 is a mere 1% loss rate (of course, there were other losses than just those you cited but it illustrates the small percentage that were lost of those built.

      The Sherman, as noted in Wiki, was affordable, reliable, repairable, and lethal - all the characteristics that define combat effective. Your conclusion is patently false.

  11. There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Tiger 1 is supposed to function and how Nazi Germany viewed WW2.

    From the onset, Nazi Germany knew that it could not compete with just "good enough" equipment, especially against the likes of the USSR and the US that can literally flood the battle field with "just good enough" weapons. So they need resort to quality and tech. Only that the dial did not go past 11.

    As for the Tiger 1, when put in it's original role as a "breakthrough tank" to be meant to punch a hole in enemy lines and then recuperate it performed well. But when put battle of attrition with no end in sight it's problems became clear, and it was not the only tanked field by Nazi Germany during the war. More Allied tanks were taken out by Pz 4s and Stug 3s than the Tiger 1.

    1. "There is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the Tiger 1 is supposed to function and how Nazi Germany viewed WW2."

      That may or may not be but it absolutely doesn't change the fact that the Tiger was combat-ineffective since it was unaffordable, unreliable, and unrepairable in the field.

      That Germany may have misjudged the type of combat the Tiger would be used in, also does not change the fact that it was combat-ineffective.

  12. Let me note, further, what bothers me about ComNavOps thread:

    Obsession about not making a mistake may be the most counterproductive aspect of modern culture:

    Actions -> Mistakes

    The only way to avoid mistakes is to minimise actions and that is exactly what we are doing. Which is a somewhat suboptimal strategy in the Red Queen world

    This comes from and it more succinctly summarizes my unease about sacrificing combat effectiveness because of initial pain while ignoring future capabilities via incremental improvement over time.

    1. Let me note, further, what bothers me about Prospective SECNAV's thread:

      Unquestioning acceptance of obvious mistakes may be the most counterproductive aspect of modern culture:

      Mistakes -> Failure

      The only way thing worse than no action is wrong action and that is exactly what we are doing (LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, EMALS, AAG, AGS, and endlessly on). Which is a decidedly suboptimal strategy in the real world of combat.

      " my unease about sacrificing combat effectiveness because of initial pain while ignoring future capabilities via incremental improvement over time."

      You appear to be calling for accepting known combat-ineffective systems against the hope that they can someday be improved to the point of combat effectiveness. First, improving to the point of combat effectiveness is what a lab is for. You don't do that in combat. People die and battles/wars are lost while you're trying to make systems combat effective. Second, you might have the tiniest, slimmest, most minute degree of validity to your approach IF - I emphasize IF - you could, somehow, magically, identify which systems can be made combat effective given enough time. However, you can't. Please don't make me list the seemingly infinite list of systems that failed to become combat effective despite enormous effort and time wasted. Lacking the magical ability to see the future, the only sane approach is to leave systems in the lab until the are proven to be combat-effective.

      In WWII, how many submarines and crews were lost waiting for fixes to make the torpedoes combat effective?

    2. You and I disagree on this one. Philosophically. Practically. Nothing doesn't change after contact with the real world. Not sales, not dating, not warfare-

      If I understand ComNavOps overarching thinking correctly you want mission thought out before platform architecture. I agree 100%.. However-

      I myself, and ALL of demonstrated history, note platforms can be improved ONLY AFTER they're fielded.

      Yes, yes, yes- I agree people died while M-16, P-38 and Liberty ships got perfected. (improved). I don't know what the alternative is. Because all of history demonstrates conceptual leaps require risk. Flintlocks, ungodly unreliable and slow, ultimately turned in to Maxims firing over WW1 trenches. Thus industrial slaughter.

      There are no labs. We can't wait for labs. We, as a country, won't fund labs.

      The Best and Brightest aren't. Simulations have their place but won't survive contact with reality without either total rejection (Maginot Line after the fact) or incremental improvement (M-16 and, God, I hope F-35).

      Some weeks back I wrote, on this blog, how a single LCS could snipe oil tankers off the Maldives. A simple stupid over-priced, do nothing well, little ship could in a single strike run up oceanic insurance rates enough to cripple oil trade worldwide. LCS is awful. But it's something that could be employed. Maybe improved. Maybe not.

      I have no magical ability to see the future. But. Nobody else does either. Anybody who runs money will tell you diversify (mulitple positions) your portfolio. Some stocks will work out and some won't.

      We can't wait for a perfect solution coming from 'The Labs'. No proof exists outside real world employment; which takes time. Platforms should be correlated (consonant?) with objectives and that's your overarching philosophy if I understand you correctly.

      Perfection can't be the enemy of good. There's no way to get to 'good' without incremental improvement. Said improvement can't be accomplished without fielding imperfect platforms.

      Regarding Combat Effectiveness: Reliability of existing platforms is a matter of funding. THAT ONE you can for sure hang on USN priorities.

    3. And may I commit to additional heresy?

      Ford (EMALS, AAG, all the rest), and all its problematic conceptual/engineering leaps is important and correct. That's right; I said it. Reliability issues acknowledged. We'll figure them out. Always have; just like WW2 torpedoes.

      Whether or not we have time is arguable. Personally, I think we have just a bit more time-

    4. To further help, Prospective SECNAV, the same argument could be said of Aegis missile defense system and all the rest as China has, as in link below:

      "As a result, the Type 052D is often referred to as the Chinese Aegis."

      Also, that a mechanically steered radar needs to relatively light in order to mechanically steer the array thus putting a limit on size while no such theoretical limit for a flat panel phase array. And one do not really have 100% reliability as the steering mechanism could break down especially given the weight to have useful for future conflict ranges.

      And it may not be wise to go back to steam catapults given that:

      "Once the Fujian aircraft carrier completes its mid- to late-stage sea trials and the electromagnetic catapult and arresting gear systems are completely tested, J-35 carrier-based fighters can perform catapult takeoffs and arrested deck landings. "

      Reminds me of the answer by "jbdyer" from the reddit link below on Birtish going back to muzzle-loaders after some bad experience with breech-loader cannons.

      " .the essence of the argument against the breech-loading Armstrong guns [is] that their equipment will not continue good and serviceable under the trying conditions of service...

      While there were still some new breach-loaders ordered in November, by December 1870 the Gazette had wrote "a beginning has at last been made" of switching to new muzzle-loaders; these ones were steel instead of bronze.

      The change wasn't immediate in 1871 but essentially new orders went exclusively for muzzle-loading models all the way until 1879 when the ship Thunderer had an accident where a muzzle-loading gun exploded during a test exercise. There were two guns being loaded and firing, and one of them misfired, but the misfire wasn't noticed, so the gun was double-loaded; 11 died in the resulting explosion.

      This marked the beginning of the end, as both French and German forces were using breech-loading cannons by now in a reliable way. As far as what happened for the British to fall behind, part of it was institutional unwillingness to change, part of it was cost-saving (Prime Minister Gladstone, who was in the position from '68 to '74, was particularly tight with finances) but part of it had to do with issues with gunpowder. "

    5. "I don't know what the alternative is."

      Really??? You can't see the proper alternative? It's to test BEFORE YOU FIELD the system. This isn't some obscure magic. It's just simple. Test and debug first.

      "There are no labs."

      ????!!!! You can't be serious. There are all kinds of labs and testing facilities: manufacturer's development labs and facilities, manufacturer's test facilities, proving grounds, instrumented test ranges, the Navy's hydrodynamics modeling chamber, wind tunnels, radiation and emissions chambers, shooting ranges, live fire explosive ranges, offshore live fire ranges, university labs, DARPA, the Hawaiian missile test range, ... ... ... do I need to keep going? And those are just some of the publicly acknowledged labs and facilities. I'm sure there's just as many 'secret' test facilities.

      In addition, there are dozens of instrumented exercise ranges such as the Fallon Top Gun facility, the Nellis and Alaska Red Flag facilities, and various Army field exercise locations, among others. All of which provide the opportunity to test and evaluate existing and developmental systems.

      We have lab and test facilities coming out the wazoo! For some unfathomable reason, we just refuse to take full advantage of them. Actually, the reason is probably our rush to close the books on the funding and Congressional oversight so as to avoid jeopardizing funding and budget slices. But, I digress ...

    6. "platforms can be improved ONLY AFTER they're fielded."

      Do you somehow think I'm arguing against improving systems after they've been fielded????! Of course systems should be constantly improved, if possible!

      Do you not understand what combat-effective means, despite my having clearly defined it in the post? It doesn't mean the ultimate, perfect version of a system, achievable only after decades of continuous improvement. A brand new system can be combat effective out of the gate and still be capable of improvements. For example, the Navy is fielding SEWIP which is a low level, bare bones capability that has room for vast improvements but is still combat effective (I assume from what little info is publicly available), as is. For example, the Tomcat was combat effective when first fielded despite poor engines which were subsequently improved. In contrast, the Ford is not even remotely combat effective (unaffordable, unreliable, unrepairable) and should never have seen the light of day.

      As best I can tell, you seem to be calling for any old crap system to be fielded and then hope it can be improved. So, yes, we're going to have to disagree most emphatically about that. We have enough combat-ineffective systems in the field, now. I don't want any more. Test it thoroughly and when you deem it combat effective, then field it. That's the only sane approach.

    7. I have to disagree with the acceptance of nonfunctional or suboptimal systems on ships. They should be completely figured out, tested, and refined BEFORE production. I have no real problem with EMALS or AAG- once they work. But look at the Ford. How long has it been in the water, and still isn't meeting its criteria?? That's unacceptable. We should have been sorting it out and building another Nimitz or three until the systems were totally meeting standards. Wed of had a couple more fully functional carriers by now, instead of the Ford, which isnt.... We've wasted millions (billions?) of dollars and most of a decade on somthing that's not even usable yet. The whole "we will figure it out" idea is a horrible substitute for common sense prototyping and implementation...

  13. CNO's point, which most of the rest of you seem intent on overlooking, is that for weapons to be usable in combat, no single performance metric is an acceptable substitute for reliability, functionality, and maintainability. Each successive evolution of whiz-bang gadgetry has resulted in less reliability, functionality, and maintainability. You can only do that so many times to the combat systems you're relying upon in battle, before you have a dysfunctional military. The minutia of some of the examples used is irrelevant.

    I would much rather be rolling around in a M4 tank during WWII, than being an infantry grunt, never mind being a Tiger crew member- most of whom did not survive the war. Short of remaining stateside, the lowest casualty rate of any service was the US Army's Armored Branch, by a lot. 1,581 American tankers lost in all types of tanks, in all theaters of war.

    There were 1,837 Tiger tanks built during WWII, and 1,718 were lost. 96 were abandoned. 57 ran out of fuel. 368 were lost for unknown or miscellaneous reasons. Reliable or not, Tigers have a rough 50/50 ratio of combat vs non-combat losses, with a 93.52% overall loss rate.

    There were 7,111 American and British M4s lost (not sure about Soviet losses, but they received 4,102 M4s), out of 49,234 built, so that's a 14.44% loss rate. Around 17,000 M4s were provided to the British. M4 speed / range / armor / firepower were as good or slightly better than anything except late war Cromwells, Comets, Tigers, and some Panthers. Armor and main gun caliber was increased on all tanks as the war progressed. The US Army did not want larger guns or more armor on their tanks until very late in the war.

    The M4 tank was one of the most reliable tanks of the war. It was also the most survivable tank of the war according to available records. Unlike other tanks, it was the easiest to get out of quickly if it caught fire. Used correctly, in the vast numbers fielded, M4 tanks were a force multiplier. This was partially due to the extreme multiple of M4 tanks produced and fielded, as compared to any other tank except for allied T-34s, but also due to its extreme reliability when compared with any other tank of the war, especially the T-34. According to Soviet records, less than 8% of T-34s taken off the production line could pass a 300km endurance test without breaking down until late in the war, 1 in 3 could make 1,000km. American testing of T-34 samples sent by the Soviet Union to Aberdeen stated it was a very good basic design so poorly built as to be almost unusable. The samples suffered from a litany of mechanical failures from poor machining and a handful of design issues. They liked the tank, but not the way it was built. They built so many because the Soviets knew it was so poorly built.

    During one of their first mass armored assaults against the Germans, 326 of 400 T-34s were lost, but only 66 from combat with the Germans. The rest were mobility losses followed by crew abandonment, much like the Ukraine War...

    All M4 repair parts actually fit, without grinding or filing of metal, because the US Army demanded that all parts be made to specifications, and would reject entire lots of parts if one part didn't fit. There were also sufficient numbers of fuel trucks assigned to refuel them, and after a road march the entire unit of M4s would still be an entire unit of fully functional combat capable M4s that didn't need to stop to effect repairs. All users of the M4 made note of this feature of American-built tanks.

    If I enter some weird time warp and find myself fighting in WWII, I could only hope to find myself sitting in an American M4 tank.


    1. @kbd512
      There was a study done of 1st Army's armor casualties from June 1944 to April 1945.
      It found that they suffered 0.98 casualties per tank loss.
      The majority of those tanks were Shermans.
      Hardly the death trap that an earlier poster had called it.

      Here's the link to the article that references the study if you are interested;


    2. Lutefisk,

      My overriding point was that the M4 was a good tank, not because it was technologically superior to Tiger tanks in every conceivable way, but because it's reliability / survivability / repairability was so much better than its contemporaries. They did upgrade the M4's armor / gun / engine package during the course of the war, so they did respond appropriately to increased enemy armor and gun caliber. What else were they realistically supposed to do? We started and finished the war with that same winning combination, even as enemy tanks improved dramatically.

      Did spending the time and money on the Tiger tank help Germany win the war? That was CNO's point.

      Every Tiger tank built cost over twice as much as every Pather built. They made 6,000 Panthers and 1,837 Tigers. As an American tanker, knowing that both vehicles are equipped with guns that can kill your tank, would you find Germany more challenging to defeat when equipped with the number of Panthers and Tigers they actually built, or if they were alternatively equipped with 9,674 Panthers?

      The inability to "zoom out" and observe the bigger picture is killing our actual combat capabilities.

      There is no real or imaginary technological advantage provided by the Ford class and EMALS. For the same money we will ultimately spend on 4 Ford class carriers, we could've and should've built 24 Forrestal class carriers. Do you imagine that there is anything whatsoever that 4 Fords can do so much better than 24 Forrestals that the outcome of a war with China will be determined solely by a shiny new carrier that can theoretically launch 30 more sorties per day, as compared to the Nimitz class? We're spending the same money, either way. What do you think the US Navy can possibly accomplish with 1/6th as many carriers? If we can put 2 Ford carriers to sea at any given time, does that represent more combat capability than 12 Forrestal class carriers?

      The Navy's claimed maximum sortie rate of 2 Ford class carriers is 540 sorties per day. 12 Forrestal class carriers launching 100 sorties per day can generate 1,200 sorties per day. Assume that sortie rate actually correlates to combat capability. What is the argument in favor of the sortie rate of the 2 Ford class carriers we could put to sea, if EMALS actually worked? How can 2 Ford class carriers launch aircraft from 12 different places at the same time? If you had to locate, attack, and sink all the carriers to win the war, is it more difficult to find and sink 2 or 12 carriers? Is it clear why we need to abandon trying to turn every weapon system into a wonder weapon?


    3. @kbd512;

      I was agreeing with you, just adding on to what you had said.

      That was a good post though, I like the way you're looking at it, for whatever my opinion is worth.


    4. "can theoretically launch 30 more sorties per day"

      This claim has been thoroughly debunked by myself and DOT&E.


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